Pauline Hopkins and the End of Incest.
My focus on the novel's sibling incest narrative in this regard promises to extend the critical discussion of Hopkins's engagements with scientific rhetoric in readings by Cynthia Schrager, Thomas Otten, and Gillman, where Hopkins's revision of racialist discourse and particularly the figure of "blood" through occult science has developed into one of the most provocative and influential lines of argument regarding Of One Blood. Gillman's explication is exemplary of this line in the body of criticism:
Hopkins transforms "blood" from a biologized term, the staple of nineteenth-century scientific racism, into a multivalent figure of speech capable of generating new meanings--including some drawn directly from, rather than countering, contemporary scientific discourses. Hopkins not only draws on existing meanings of "blood," she also invents some of her own. If Hopkins's "blood" refers ... to the literal passing down of inheritance theorized by the biological sciences, as well as to the biblical inheritance of spirit or culture, it also refers, in the novel's occult context, to hereditarian theories of a psychic identity that endures over time and space. No simple transvaluation of scientific terms, Hopkins's strategy placed her in the more ambiguous position of challenging the claims of science from within, of being, that is, occupied by such terms and yet occupying them herself. ("Hopkins and the Occult" 76)
When the scientific and political implications of the novel's sibling incest narrative are taken into account, it becomes clear that in Of One Blood the problem of incest is inseparable from this revision of "blood" and the host of deterministic and differential concepts that this figure insinuates into scientific and legal discourses of race and gender.
We must begin by establishing that Hopkins was more than a casual student of contemporary anthropological and ethnological debates, and she was deeply cognizant of the power of "blood" as a figure in the lexicons of the scientific and political discourses of race in her era. She published two extended treatises in the field of ethnology, both of which make arguments for the single-origin theory of human genealogy, known in nineteenth-century ethnological debates as the theory of monogenesis. Hopkins often articulated her monogenism through references to the apostle Paul's "one blood" decree, and she maintained arguments for the decree's scientific implications. (2) In her ethnological series, "The Dark Races of the Twentieth Century" (1905), Hopkins writes, "In this study of the dark races actually living today upon the globe, the reader or student is deeply impressed with the infinite variety of mixture in these races. This very mingling of races proves the theory of 'one blood.' Indeed, the principle that the human species is one cannot be disputed, and all men that inhabit the earth are but varieties of this one species" (191). From this ethnological perspective, Hopkins's outlook on the genealogical implications of "one blood" remains considerably more sanguine in comparison with the profoundly ambivalent explication of the scientific, cultural, and political meanings of "one blood" suggested in her final work of fiction, where "one blood" as a metaphor for redemptive monogenesis becomes troublingly conflated with "one blood" as a metaphor for universal incest.
At the beginning of Of One Blood, the problem of universal brotherhood is certainly far from the mind of the protagonist Reuel Briggs, a brilliant but despondent Harvard student whose "desolateness" and "loneliness" lead him toward thoughts of suicide. These feelings of isolation are compounded by the gnawing secret of his racial passing. Reuel tries to alleviate this torment by poring over his research in occult phenomena through which he hopes to unlock the hidden metaphysical mysteries of transpscyhic connections. Against his protests of being unconcerned with the pressing "Negro problem," Reuel is dragged away from his work by his white friend Aubrey Livingston to attend a concert by the traveling Fisk Jubilee Singers. There Reuel becomes captivated with the group's lead soprano, Dianthe Lusk. By the end of the novel, the reader will discover that this trio of main characters--Reuel Briggs, Dianthe Lusk, and Aubrey Livingston--are not only "of one blood" with respect to their racial identities, but also "of one blood" with respect to their siblinghood. While Aubrey Livingston has been raised as the white heir to his family's wealth, all three are actually the legally black offspring of Aubrey Livingston, Sr., a Maryland plantation owner, and his slave, Mira. The romantic attraction that both Reuel and Aubrey soon feel for Dianthe and which they both believe to be miscegenous is actually an incestuous desire for their own sister. More than a sensational and dramatic turn in the plot, this revelation is the return of repressed interracial slaveholding and slave family legacy revisited upon the descendants of the Livingston family as the irreducible threat of incest. The corruption of "one blood"--from monogenetic slogan to incestuous warning--becomes the present dilemma for such characters in post-Reconstruction era fiction, where the drama of unwitting incest besets the descendants of intertwined, interracial families dispersed by slavery, segregated by Jim Crow law, and left without certain knowledge of their kinship relations across the color line.
While dramatizing the consequences of slavery's genealogical disruptions, the incest plot also acknowledges a broader conceptual problem entailed in the advocacy of monogenesis as a viable alternative to nineteenth-century deterministic racialism and a reconciliation of the post-Reconstruction racial divide. Marc Shell explains that while the "rhetoric of the universalist position--'All human beings are siblings'--is beguiling," a position that embraces monogenesis but ignores the problem of incest is inconsistent, for "even in the entire world, the hypothesis of human monogenesis the belief that all men and women are descended in common from a single couple (Adam and Eve, say)--might mean that any and all sexual liaisons would be potentially incestuous and hence, teleologically speaking, also actually incestuous" (Shell 625, 641). The problem of Hopkins's novel--the problem of one blood--is precisely this problem of incest as the seemingly unavoidable end of monogenesis. Or as Gillman suggests," 'One blood' refers textually both to a horror and a promise: to the horror of the incestuous, sibling relations among the three protagonists, exposed as literal blood brothers and sisters ... and to the biblical promises of racial unity ..." (Gillman, "Hopkins and the Occult" 63).
The radical resolution to the problem of incest comes in the novel's ironic drive toward sibling affinity rather than away from it, a movement that culminates in a dramatic finale in which sibling affinity is considered redemptive rather than culturally degenerative and morally abhorrent. This is not to suggest that the novel advocates incest, but rather that it refuses the premises and implications of the universal application of the incest taboo, particularly those premises that naturalize the symbolic properties and cultural anxieties associated with the figure of "blood." Hopkins's plot, in which the apparent choice of miscegenous romantic relationships turns out to be the accident of incest, dramatizes the cultural and discursive rather than natural or biological difference between exogamy and endogamy. Altering the scientific, conceptual, and political terms of sibling affinity, the narrative depicts the new moral valuations and narrative possibilities allowed by a radically different conception of what it means to be "of one blood." Moreover, this reconceptualization of sibling affinity is no mere incidental byproduct of Hopkins's rejection of scientific racialism, but rather the strategy for that rejection. In conjunction with the representation of the occult through which Hopkins achieves what Gillman describes as a "radical recontextualizing" of "blood" as a metaphor for race, Of One Blood also reconceptualizes the incestuous implications of the "one blood" decree as a way to "make blood thus speak out of school ... to underscore its excessive meanings" (Blood Talk 69). By replacing the "blood" of incest and miscegenation rhetoric with the occult "blood" of the "hidden self," the novel undoes the logic of the genealogical narrative that leads (as Shell puts it) "teleologically" from monogenesis to the universal violation of the incest taboo.
Blood, after all, is the operative term in the conflation of monogenesis and incest, and Shell's suggestion of a "teleological" movement from monogenesis to universal incest overlooks the important role that the figure of "blood" plays in their discursive conflation. In a truly monogenetic human population, "sexual liaisons" between members of the same family become the unavoidable rule, however remote the relations between the family members may be. While there are no exceptions here to intra-familial relations, this is not to say that all such relationships should be considered incestuous or even endogamous. A completely monogenetic world may preclude the possibility of relationships outside of a grand family, but it does not necessitate even the observance of endogamy much less the violation of its tabooed form, incest. Endogamy and incest are not necessary ends of the genealogical narrative beginning with a single origin but rather culturally defined prohibitions against certain degrees of kinship. The critical difference between monogenesis and incest is made apparent by the etymology roots of "incest": from the Latin incestus (in- + castus), incestuous relationships are impure. Monogenesis, however, indicates a unitary genealogy wholly resistant to the incestuous notion of being outside of caste. While certain relations under monogenesis may be deemed impure and thus prohibited by custom, there is no formal "teleology" from monogenesis to incest. That is, there is no genealogical narrative alone by which the purity of monogenesis leads inevitably to the impurity of incest. The impurity of incest does not refer to the endogamous or intra-familial relationships themselves but rather to the pretextual impure circumstances that are understood to occur when family members become intimately related. The original source of this impurity and the disseminations into kinship discourse of its cultural associations are the underlying subjects of Hopkins's novel. In anthropological theories of the incest taboo, the origins of incestuous impurity are traced back to the (seemingly universal) grounding of cultural concepts of inter- and intra-group difference in the perceived properties of literal blood. Ultimately, endogamy is incestuous because certain forms of blood are impure.
Incest, then, is not a necessary paraphrase for the relationships that take place between members of a monogenetic, genealogically pure family. Indeed, incest and monogenesis have nothing to do with each other; "blood"--by imbuing the discourse of genealogy with cultural concepts of contagion and impurity--makes it seem as if they do. In a process of conceptual contagion that takes place through the mobilization of associations entailed in the use of "blood" as a metaphor for kinship, the cultural and symbolic terms associated with the figure of "blood" spoil monogenesis into incest. This symbolic, rhetorical, and ultimately political spoilage of the phrase "of one blood" is the central problem of Hopkins's novel, and, as we will see, the novel's sibling affinity plot redeems genealogical monism from incest by divorcing monogenesis from the scientific premises and moral condemnations of incest, condemnations that follow only from the narrow selection and application of the cultural concepts associated with the substance and figure of blood.
The crucial players in this redemption are the novel's major female characters--Aunt Hannah, Mira, and Dianthe who comprise the matrilineal line of the slave family owned by the white Livingston family. All of these women--along with the ancient African matriarch Queen Candace, who ultimately achieves the radical refiguring of incest in the novel's finale--demonstrate the power to overcome vast generational, geographical, and psychic distances to repair the destruction that rape and incest have wrought upon their family legacy. In "Passing Shadows," Dana Luciano argues persuasively for the "maternal power" that carries through the line of black female characters in the novel. Much of this power is dedicated to the prevention of Dianthe, Reuel, and Aubrey's incestuous relationships. Hannah attempts to eliminate the incest threat by revealing her family history to Dianthe, while her daughter Mira, whom Luciano describes as "the most powerful figure in the narrative," achieves nothing less than a return from the dead in order to warn her own children of their impending incest (179).
The redemption from a legacy of incest begins the very moment the incest legacy is revealed. During a seemingly chance reunion, Aunt Hannah, "moaning as though in physical pain," recounts the horrors of her life as a slave on the Livingston plantation to her long-lost granddaughter Dianthe (One Blood 175). Aunt Hannah laments what she modestly refers to as her "relations with massa"--repeated acts of rape by her master, "Ol' Marse," the patriarch of the white Livingston family--that resulted in the births of as many as ten children (175). Hannah was allowed to keep only one child, Mira, while "all de res' were sold away to raise de mor'gage off de prop'rty" (175). Hannah's daughter Mira suffers a fate worse than being sold; she becomes the sexual object of the master's only "legitimate" child (later known as Aubrey Livingston, Sr.) who is also her half-brother. Mira gives birth to three children--Reuel, Dianthe, and Aubrey--the novel's main characters. From Aunt Hannah's back story, Dianthe thus learns that she is the descendant of slaves and that the two men with whom she has been romantically involved--Reuel Briggs and Aubrey Livingston--are both her own brothers. As offspring of the relationship between the black and white children of "Ol' Marse," Dianthe, Reuel, and Aubrey are heirs to what Wernor Sollors describes as an "intensely incestuous situation," and as shocking as the revelation of her siblinghood with Reuel and Aubrey may be for Dianthe, the doubly incestuous romantic triangle between her and her brothers actually extends a dark legacy of incestuous relationships between the black and white, enslaved and slaveholding lines of the Livingston family (Neither Black nor White 304).
The problem of incest is thus imbricated in the racial and gendered power dynamics of American slavery. In one sense, Hannah's story is an indictment of the slaveholding fathers and male heirs of the Livingston family, whose unchecked legal powers over their female slaves provide the social license for their practices of miscegenous and incestuous sexual violation while sowing the seeds of their own family ruin in the process. The continuance of incest in the post-Reconstruction setting is the damning, unforeseen outcome of the master's exercise of unlimited racial power, and Hopkins's indictment of the slaveholding fathers demonstrates Werner Sollors's analysis of the "liberal-antislavery" ideology behind some narrative inter-twinings of incest and miscegenation: "The tyrannical patriarch who does not stop short of incest signals the chaotic perversion of the whole system he embodies, putting his unacknowledged children into a problematic position as victims and possible rebels and setting into motion a chain of events that may end in the downfall of the house when the illegitimate and the legitimate families encounter each other" (Neither Black nor White 319). Hopkins clearly suggests the culpability of Hannah's master and his heirs for their practice of the sexual abuses that eventually lead to Dianthe, Reuel, and Aubrey's intolerable predicament. In another context, Hopkins would similarly suggest the responsibility for miscegenation anxiety on the part of "Chivalrous Southern men" who took legal ownership rights as license for sexual domination and "desecrated the purity of the Southern home, and, incidentally, opened this question of racial purity" (Primer 28). The masters' disregard for incest as a deterrent to such relationships may reinforce the claim of total sexual license over their female slaves, but this attempt to negate the familial bonds between themselves and their own slave offspring only compounds the postslavery anxieties of hidden racial genealogy by adding the specter of further, hidden incestuous ties.
But Aunt Hannah's story is also the confession of her own part in creating the circumstances for her grandchildren's incestuous romances. After all, it is Hannah who, motivated by the impending sale of her daughter Mira, secretly switches Mira's newborn son with her white mistress's dead baby, thus counterfeiting her own black grandson for the white male heir to the Livingston line. In exchanging the literally dead white child for the "socially dead" black slave child, Hannah intends to subvert her master's proprietary claims on her grandson and to circumvent the child's "natal alienation" as an heir to "his mother's 'black blood.'" (3) (Here the form and function of what we might call "Hannah's plot," following Carolyn Porter, resonates with that of Twain's Roxana in Pudd'nhead Wilson. (4)) If the switch undermines the master's patrilineal power, it also provides the circumstances for the unwitting incest that occurs later when the supposedly white child (Aubrey Livingston) becomes involved with Mira's only daughter Dianthe, his unwitting sibling. By relating her experiences as a slave to her granddaughter, Aunt Hannah is attempting to atone for her own feelings of guilt for committing the baby switch ("'Den I believe de debbil took possession of me body and soul") and to avert the unthinkable outcome of the plot she has initiated (One Blood 177). A deep irony emerges from this incestuous outcome in that, by creating the circumstances for incest within the Livingston family, Aunt Hannah ushers in the horrible achievement of the slavemaster's ultimate genealogical goals in his adamant disavowal of miscegenation. Rather than the preservation of an untainted "white" genealogical line, the master's "black" descendants achieve his desire for genealogical purity ironically, and in excess. If the master's obsessive protection of racial purity is a desire for homogeneity, then the avoidance of unwanted difference, Hopkins suggests, is a muted desire for a degree of sameness made possible only through the profanation of incest. (5)
Hannah's switch employs the age-old incest plot device of infant or childhood separation that prevents nuclear family members from recognizing their shared kinship when reunited later in life. This unfortunate separation in the unwitting incest plot is, of course, as old as literary drama. But as W. Daniel Wilson suggests in his study of incest plots in eighteenth-century literature, the modern incest plot develops the ancient form in the light of emerging scientific theories of the origins and purposes of incest aversion. Indeed, Wilson insists that an understanding of the "literary obsession with consummated unwitting incest" during the eighteenth century is "unthinkable" without considering the period's debate over the roots of the incest taboo in divine and natural law (254). In conjunction with Hopkins's appropriation of the Jamesian "new psychology" of her era, an equally important although relatively implicit appropriation of unorthodox scientific theories of the incest taboo informs the development and meaning of her sibling incest plot.
By the time Hopkins published Of One Blood, the literary narrative of infant separation leading to unwitting incest had found its anthropological corollary in Edward Westermarck's influential "proximity aversion theory," which he explains at length in his 1891 study, The History of Human Marriage. Westermarck argues that childhood proximity dampens sexual attraction between siblings, effectively neutralizing their incestuous desire and creating an instinctual barrier to the development of such relationships. "What I maintain is, that there is an innate aversion to sexual intercourse between persons living very closely together from early youth, and that, as such persons are in most cases related, this feeling displays itself chiefly as a horror of intercourse between near kin" (320). Literary plots of separated siblings who later commit unwitting incest make implicit reference to such an aversion in their narrative circumvention of what would eventually become known as the "Westermarck effect." But while the separation in such plots makes the incestuous aspect of the later relationship "unwitting" (thus absolving the incestuous pair of any immoral intent) the unusually strong and strangely natural feelings of attraction felt between the siblings upon their reunion only heighten the ambiguity regarding the appropriateness of the sibling desire itself. The moral ambiguities of the incest tragedy force the reader into a difficult judgment regarding the origin and meaning of this "power of sympathy," a choice between reading the attraction between the siblings as the overcoming of a Westmarckian natural aversion or the indulgence in a Freudian desire. An interpretation made under the principle of an instinctual aversion will view the sibling affinity as an innocent yet tragic error in which the vestigial feelings of a natural horror are misinterpreted as romantic or sexual attraction; an interpretation made under the principle of psychological attraction will view the relationship as the consummation of otherwise repressed desire.
Yet both cases presuppose what W. Daniel Wilson describes as "an ability to recognize or to sense intuitively consanguinity without having been acquainted with the relative" (255). From a scientific standpoint, the notion is perhaps (as Wilson calls it) "farfetched," but as a literary conceit it is the compelling heart of the incest drama's ambiguity and a critical concept for Hopkins's reconceptualization of sibling affinity. "This intuition which could attract siblings to each other is a gold mine for myth and literature, and has come to be identified by the term 'voice of blood.'" As with the eighteenth-century authors in Wilson's study, Hopkins "neatly circumvented the Westermarck effect by having the fictional children raised separately," and rather than interpreting their revivified mutual feelings as instinctual warnings against incestuous union--that is, against deleterious and prohibited relations of "blood"--Reuel and Dianthe are drawn toward each other later in life by what we might call a critically different version of this "voice of blood" (255).
Hopkins's novel imagines new scientific and narrative possibilities for this preternatural intuition of sibling "consanguinity" by casting Reuel and Dianthe's mutual and seemingly uncontrollable "call" to each other as the function of a transcendent occult link rather than a merely biological kinship. The mechanism that facilitates Reuel and Dianthe's feelings of attraction is a metaphysical force that takes the place of tabooed "blood"--a force that is, significantly, first felt through the use of Dianthe's voice--and this transubstantiation of blood is the core of Hopkins's reconceptualization of kinship and sibling affinity. The new substance and tenor of this revised "voice of blood" calling Reuel and Dianthe together is not the deterministic germ plasm of nineteenth-century ethnology but a mystical "blood" of occult affinity.
As the force behind Reuel and Dianthe's sibling affinity, the occult "voice of blood" provides an alternative scientific and narrative context for the moral framing of incestuous desire, redeeming Reuel's solitary psyche even as it facilitates his saving Dianthe's life. When a train accident leaves Dianthe incapacitated, Reuel seizes the opportunity to put his occult research into dramatic practice by reviving the victim from seeming death. Reuel demonstrates his mastery over an ethereal substance that unites each with all and that energizes the dormant feelings between him and his incapacitated sister. He explains to those gathered around Dianthe that, "The secret of life lies in what we call volatile magnetism--it exists in the free atmosphere" and that he has developed the power to manipulate this force (One Blood 32).
This subtile magnetic agent is constantly drawn into the body through the lungs, absorbed and held in bounds until chemical combination has occurred through the medium of mineral agents always present in normal animal tissue. When respiration ceases this magnetism cannot be drawn into the lungs. It must be artificially supplied. This, gentleman, is my discovery. I supply this magnetism. I have it here in the case Dr. Livingston has kindly brought me. (6) (One Blood 33)
The dramatic resuscitation of Dianthe from "seeming death" is also the reinvigoration of "blood" as a metaphor through the defamiliarizing science of an occult transfusion. Set against the biological determinism of blood in nineteenth-century racial science, Reuel's occultism offers what Nancy Stepan and Sander Gilman have described as an "alternative ideology" to orthodox science, a scientific practice that produces "a genuine oppositional discourse or set of discourses ... by positing a radically different world view, with different perceptions of reality, goals, and points of reference" (99). Part bodily substance, part universal ether, Hopkins's "volatile magnetism" strikes a critical compromise between the physical-corporeal and the metaphysical, taking on the characteristic features of nineteenth-century "vital materialism," which, as scientific historian Kim Pelis explains, "located any potential 'vital principle' in the material of the living body" and "left open the working analogy between blood, electricity, and life" (181).
It is precisely the more orthodox scientific notions of the relationship between blood and the vital forces of organic life as they relate to racial identity that Hopkins's novel calls into question. Reuel's resuscitation of Dianthe reproduces the familiar scene of the male medical practitioner working over the body of the female patient, and the procedure by which Reuel saves Dianthe's life is reminiscent of a blood transfusion: "It may be artificially supplied.... I have it here in the case Dr. Livingston has kindly brought me." In this novel full of doubles, Reuel's volatile magnetism acts as a doppelganger of the substance of blood itself. The ethereal medium retains the life-sustaining function of blood, but also transcends blood's biological limitations, and equally important, its attendant metaphorical associations. Redefining the possibilities of what it means to be "of one blood," Hopkins's volatile magnetism literally flows through all human beings, and by virtue of this substance, all human beings share a powerful unity that can never be achieved through the more limited biological or genealogical paraphrase of "one blood" as a figurative reference to the theory of monogenesis.
As an alternative science that fundamentally alters the associations between blood and kinship, occultism makes possible the redemption of sibling affinity and with it the meaning of "one blood." As siblings, Reuel and Dianthe are drawn to each other by this force that neither can wholly explain, even though Reuel's studies in "supernatural phenomena" prepare him for the reality of forces beyond the realm of orthodox science and common experience. Upon first encountering Dianthe during her performance with the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Reuel (without any knowledge of their siblinghood) feels awakened and deeply compelled by her presence. While her voice "awakened ringing harmonies in the heart of every listener," the effect of Dianthe's voice on Reuel is particularly powerful: "Reuel was carried out of himself; he leaned forward in eager contemplation of the artist; he grew cold with terror and fear" (One Blood 14, 15). Dianthe's voice lifts Reuel out of his depression and inward obsessions, into a consciousness transcending the narrowness of his individual psyche. Reuel begins the novel in suicidal despair, but the return of his sister into his life prompts him to reconsider the possibility of his own happiness, and after seeing Dianthe perform, Reuel expresses a new-found enthusiasm for female companionship. With the magnetic attraction he feels toward Dianthe confirming his emotional attraction for her, Reuel expresses his newly stirred romantic feelings in terms of his mesmeric research. "I suppose there are plenty of men in the world as lonely as I am," he mused; "but I suppose it is my own fault.... The woman I marry must be to me a necessity, because I love her; because so loving her, 'all the current of my being flows to her,' and I feel she is my supreme need" (23). Feeling "strangely happy," Reuel wonders "whether the spirit is sometimes mysteriously conscious of the nearness of its kindred spirit; and feels, in anticipation, the 'sweet unrest' of the master-passion that rules the world" (23).
As if to confirm these thoughts and their transpsychic implications, Dianthe appears to Reuel with "lovely features" in a supernatural vision. She promises that he will soon be able to help her and then vanishes, leaving Reuel feeling the "slave of a passion as sudden and romantic as that of Romeo for Juliet; with no more foundation than the 'presentments' in books which treat of the 'occult'" (25). This "restless, unsatisfied longing" [that] rose again in his heart" upon seeing Dianthe's apparition is Reuel's unwitting desire for his own sister, couched in terms of an occult, transpsychic affinity (One Blood 23). Later he will explain to Aubrey (who is simultaneously feeling his own inexplicable attraction for Dianthe) that "a mad desire seized me to find that face a living reality that I might love and worship it. Then I saw her ... in the flesh! My desire was realized" (42-43; original italics). The psychologically salutary effect that attends the awakening of this unwitting sibling desire suggests a refashioning of the consequences of sibling affinity. Whereas orthodox scientific and cultural proscriptions against incest designate close family members as the least fit for biologically sound and morally sanctioned relationships, the occult forces behind sibling affinity in Of One Blood lead Reuel, in the throes of a "sweet unrest," to consider his sister as the singularly perfect mate and his "supreme need." Achieved by virtue of a mystical rather than a biological link, the return to incest with an occult difference, here and at the novel's end, provides the radical revision of deterministic conceptions of kinship and their attendant rhetoric of racial "blood."
Moreover, Reuel's unorthodox mastery of the metaphysical brings about the bold revision of "blood's" figuration, changing the meaning and the very nature of this term in incest and miscegenation rhetoric. As the fundamental substance of an altered physical and metaphysical state, Reuel's ethereal blood substitute opens new possibilities for altering the literal and figurative associations between the vehicle of "blood" and the tenors of life, character, and kinship. Redefining the force that draws Reuel and Dianthe together, Reuel's occult science reimagines the incestuous "voice of blood" in terms of a transcendent, metaphysical "power of sympathy," and provides the fictional corollary for the new linguistic and cognitive sympathies to be derived from a refashioning of racialism's figurative language of "blood."
The key to this radical revision lies in the idea of a connective substance that makes the psychic sympathies of Reuel's occultism and the conceptual sympathies of metaphor work. Roman Jakobson's discussion of the homologous action of totemic magic and figurative language is particularly useful here for demonstrating the resonance between Reuel's discovery of new physical and psychic dimensions and Hopkins's narrative reconfiguration of kinship discourse. In his influential discussion of metaphor and metonymy, Jakobson posits two types of conceptual relationships by which the terms of a discourse can be associated. "The development of a discourse may take place along two different semantic lines; one topic may lead to another either through their similarity or through their contiguity. The metaphoric way would be the most appropriate term for the first case and the metonymic way for the second, since they find their most condensed expression in metaphor and metonymy respectively" (129). Jakobson finds the same work of similarity and contiguity at play in Freudian dream work and an "illuminating" homology in the actions of anthropologist James George Frazer's twin branches of sympathetic magic: homoeopathic or imitative magic (operating by the law of similarity) and contagious magic (by law of contact).
This comparison between the operations of dream work, figurative language, and sympathetic magic highlights the creative process required to reconstruct what are essentially errors of association made in the linking of terms and ideas in each case. Jakobson's reference to totemic theory as an anthropological corollary to the element of creative error in the associative dynamics of his two "semantic lines" of figuration is supported by Frazer's own description in The Golden Bough of the two principles of "the magician's logic" as "two different misapplications of the association of ideas": "Homeopathic magic commits the mistake of assuming that things which resemble each other are the same: contagious magic commits the mistake of assuming that things which have once been in contact with each other are always in contact" (13). In all of these cases (Jakobson, Freud, and Frazer), an interpretation based on simple paraphrase is frustrated by the severely truncated or lost terms of the relationship between the manifest set of signs (the vehicle of the figurative expression, the dream content, the magic talisman) and their poetically, psychologically, or symbolically "hidden" referents.
With this homology between figuration and sympathetic magic in mind, we can see that the substitution of an occult substance for literal blood as the vehicle for kinship depicts the real and available possibility for a strategic refashioning of the figurative and conceptual relationship between blood and kinship, effectively altering the cultural and symbolic associations that the figure of "blood" infuses into this discourse. The metaphysical transfer of knowledge and power between human subjects and psyches in Of One Blood--made possible by Reuel's discovery of a connective synergy between a universal ethereal substance and "the hidden self lying quiescent in every human soul"--correlates to the semiotic transfer of associative concepts between terms in the action of metaphor (One Blood 7). Reuel's occult science suggests a change in the figurative meaning of "blood" by altering the very substance through which metaphysical and metaphorical sympathy is achieved. As Frazer explains:
Both branches of magic, the homeopathic and the contagious, may conveniently be comprehended under the general name of Sympathetic Magic, since both assume that things act on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy, the impulse being transmitted from one to the other by means of what we may conceive as a kind of invisible ether, not unlike that which is postulated by modern science for a precisely similar purpose, namely, to explain how things can physically affect each other through a space which appears to be empty. (14)
Reuel's discovery of a mystical blood substitute reveals the secret metaphysical sympathy between all things and alters the literal and figurative vehicle of the "secret sympathy" between Reuel and Dianthe, thus allowing for what would otherwise be impossible under the discourse of kinship figured through biological "blood"--the purity of sibling union. Occult science thus provides the new figurative and conceptual relationships between blood and kinship necessary for the novel's semiotic revision and cultural transvaluation of incest. Unorthodox science redeems monogenesis, and by ushering in the end of incest as the primary blood taboo, undermines the scientific and symbolic logic of all other related taboos against illicit crossings of "blood."
In addition to the entailment of biological determinism, Hopkins's revision of incest discourse refutes the cognitive entailment of totemic blood's inherent differential gender relations in the use of "blood" as a figure in racial blood discourse. In anthropological and psychoanalytic theories of the incest aversion derived from the principle of totemism, rituals of blood naturalize gender differences and the fear of illicit contact with the feminine becomes the source of the kinship taboo. This is the case in Emile Durkheim's Incest: The Nature and Origin of the Taboo (1898) (published four years before Of One Blood), where the incest taboo in "primitive" societies prevents contact with what is regarded as the recurring manifestation of impurity in the form of menstrual blood. "Thus the woman, in a rather chronic manner, is the theater of these bloody demonstrations. The feelings that the blood evokes are carried within her; we know in fact with what extraordinary facility the nature of the taboo is diffused" (85). For Freud as for Durkheim, patriarchal anxieties over blood motivate the establishment of totemic kinship restrictions. In Totem and Taboo, the spilling of the father's blood by a "horde" of jealous sons creates feelings of communal remorse that in turn lead to the prohibition of violence against the totemic animal, a stand-in for the father. The resultant power vacuum leaves the sons vying for the attention of the females in the community, and in order to ward off the fratricide that would result from the sons' battle for favor, the prohibition against incest is instituted: "[T]he brothers had no alternative, if they were to live together, but ... to institute the law against incest, by which they all alike renounced the women whom they desired and who had been their chief motive for dispatching their father" (179). When the anti-feminine underpinnings of some of the most influential scientific discourse on incest is taken into consideration, Hopkins's revisions of the scientific, cultural, and narrative implications of incest can be read as wholly consistent with the larger feminist politics guiding her political activism and her entire literary body of work.
Yet for all of its interventions into the premises and implications of scientific discourse on incest, Hopkins's novel cannot easily put aside the troubling moral dimensions of its sibling romance plot. The revelation of these familial relationships becomes the moral nadir of the novel, a dark reversal of fortune in comparison to the standard reunion of ex-slave families in so many other racial melodramas of the period. When Dianthe learns of her relationships with her own brothers, she responds "with a look of utter horror that froze her blood. 'My brothers! both those men!' " (One Blood 177).
Dianthe staggered as though buffeted in the face. Blindly, as if in some hideous trance, reeling and stumbling, she fell. Cold and white as marble, she lay in the old woman's [Aunt Hannah's] arms, who thought her dead. "Better so," she cried, and then laughed aloud, then kissed the poor, drawn face. But she was not dead. Time passed; the girl could not speak. The sacrilege of what had been done was too horrible. Such havoc is wrought by evil deeds. The first downward step of an individual or a nation, who can tell where it will end, through what dark and doleful shades of hell the soul must pass in travail? (177-78)
Whereas the occult blood transfusion performed by Reuel revives Dianthe from a state of near death, the revelation of incest causes her to descend into a near-death state. Reuel may be destined to reestablish the glory of the ancient African civilization of Meroe, but as American subjects, for whom as it is supposed for all in Western culture, the incest taboo is "commonly believed to represent a baseline in the definition of human morality," the siblings are fated outcasts (Arens ix).
Yet even this notion of the incest prohibition as a litmus test for culture and morality is challenged in the novel's finale. The certainty of Dianthe's death near the end of the novel--"Dianthe was dead, poisoned; that was clear"--seems to suggest that she must pay the ultimate price in order to achieve a moral resolution to the problem of incest, as with her death goes the incest threat (190). The occult context alters the significance of Dianthe's second death (after her first "seeming" death resulting from the train accident), and the "ever-riving faculty" that maintains her after natural death not only provides the alternative physical circumstances by which Dianthe cannot die, it also provides the thematic context within which Dianthe as the violator of double sibling incest need not die in order to bring about the moral resolution of the incest theme.
In several critical readings, the shift from the American to the African setting in the novel's final act has been considered a morally cleansing recontextualization because the change of venue leaves Dianthe behind (dead) and abandons the context of American slavery from which the incest problem stems. Gillman suggests that, "[O]nce we learn all about the characters' mysterious and intertwined pasts under slavery, this knowledge offers no possibility of restoring the American social and moral order" ("Mulatto" 232). For Eric Sundquist, the shift signals Reuel's immersion into the mysticism of his new-found African culture and his purified relationship with Queen Candace as antidotes to the problem of incest. "Sheared away in his return to African kingship, Briggs's white blood and skin, associated with slavery, incest, cruelty, and betrayal, are subordinated to his black lineage" (572). Similarly, Dana Luciano observes, "The tension between the endorsement of racial monogenism and the prohibition of familial incest is resolved, in the final pages of the novel, by Reuel's resettlement in Telassar, away from the potentially incestuous disarray of the American scene that is the legacy of slavery" (176). But if the shift to the African setting solves the problem of incest, it does so not only through the evacuation of associations with American slavery, but also--with a second "resurrection" of Dianthe in the form of the ancient Ethiopian Queen Candace in the novel's finale--through a bold and ironic embrace of sibling affinity and a reappraisal of the sibling romance's "impurity."
For in a final iteration of the novel's many doublings, the incestuous union between Reuel and Dianthe is repeated with a difference in the relationship between Reuel and yet another feminine figure of genealogical restoration. Reuel travels to Africa as part of an archaeological expedition and learns of his destiny to fulfill the long-awaited return of the Ethiopian King Ergamenes, ruler of the island capital of Meroe. Reuel weds the Ethiopian female monarch, Queen Candace, the "virgin queen who waits the coming of Ergamenes to inaugurate a dynasty of kings" (One Blood 130). (7) If Dianthe's death and the change in venue from America to Africa are read as the turning away from sibling incest, it is more difficult to reconcile this rejection with the uncanny duplication of Dianthe in the figure of Candace and what must be understood as Reuel's persistently incestuous attraction to his sister's form. Captivated by Candace's beauty, grace, and majesty, Reuel is enthralled by her "flutelike voice," a "voice like unto silver chimes," the same feature that had enflamed his desire for his sister Dianthe: "Reuel started, for it seemed to him that Dianthe's own voice was breathing in his ears" (138, 136). If, as Eric Sundquist argues, "the suggestion that Dianthe and Candace are part of the same 'personality' or 'soul' that lives beyond the confines of the physical body and its death empties consanguinity of any threat in the novel," the fact that Candace is not Dianthe "in the flesh" alone does not satisfactorily mitigate the problem of Reuel's "incestuous" desire for his sister Dianthe in the form of Candace (Sundquist 572). "She reminded him strongly of his beautiful Dianthe; in face, the resemblance was so striking that it was painful. ... She was the same height as Dianthe, had the same well-developed shoulders and the same admirable bust" (One Blood 137). Candace is (as Sundquist suggests) a "more appropriate mate"--not because she is not Reuel's sister but, I would argue, because she is so much like her (Sundquist 572).
Reuel's desire for Queen Candace, rather than a departure from his incestuous relationship with Dianthe, is the consummation of that forbidden desire with a critical difference. It is, after all, the very power of a proxy sibling affinity that forges Reuel and Candace's relationship, and as Dianthe's double, Candace reinscribes even as she revises the incestuous implications of the siblings' relationship. The manner by which Reuel surrogates Candace as the object of his incestuous desire for his sister (a sublimation that provokes Sundquist's description of Hopkins's plot as "proto-Faulknerian") allows him both to avoid and engage in the illicit union (572). (8) While Reuel's union of "one blood" with Dianthe results in a relationship that supposedly undermines culture itself and leaves sterile, genealogically corrupted offspring by anthropological and ethnological accounts, the union of "one blood" with Candace is a prophesy-fulfilling fertile union. Candace is described in terms anathema to the very etymological roots of incest in the sense of the "impure" and "unchaste," for in contrast to Dianthe's descent from a long line of slave women whose chastity had been repeatedly violated, Candace, as the Ethiopian guide Ai explains to Reuel, "is a virgin queen"; indeed, she seems "the embodiment of all chastity" (One Blood 130, 137). In the final embrace of sibling affinity, all of the received notions of incest discourse are reversed, and the "consanguineous" union that once threatened the entire culture--the union to which Dianthe responds with an "utter horror that froze her blood"--is transformed into a transcendent propinquity that now sets African blood in motion: "Yes; she was a Venus, a superb statue of bronze, moulded [sic] by a great sculptor; but an animated statue, in which one saw the blood circulate, and from which life flowed" (177, 137).
The strangely incestuous character of the union between Reuel and Candace should be understood as the thematic capstone of the cultural transvaluation and historiographic revision that is the very purpose of the African expedition. Reuel and Candace's wedding completes Reuel's return as the lost ruler of the ancient Ethiopian civilization of Meroe, capital of the Kingdom of Kush. The African archaeological expedition that comprises the novel's latter half--culminating in Reuel's union with Candace--rehearses nineteenth-century ethnological debates over racial castes in ancient Egypt and anthropological debates over ancient Egypt as the origin of Western civilization. The purpose of the expedition is to establish ancient Ethiopia as the wellspring of Western civilization. As leader of the expedition, Professor Stone explains, "I know that in connecting Egypt with Ethiopia, one meets with most bitter denunciation from most modern scholars. Science has done its best to separate the race from Northern Africa, but the evidence is with the Ethiopians. If I mistake not, the rums of Meroe will prove my words" (99). The lineage of civilization that Professor Stone is determined to reestablish is outlined in an essay by Hopkins on black female educators published in The Colored American Magazine in 1902.
Rome got her civilization from Greece; Greece borrowed hers from Egypt, thence she derived her science and beautiful mythology. Civilization descended the Nile and spread over the delta, as it came down from Thebes. Thebes was built and settled by the Ethiopians. As we ascend the Nile we come to Meroe the queen city of Ethiopia and the cradle of learning into which all Africa poured its caravans. So we trace the light of civilization from Ethiopia to Egypt, to Greece, to Rome, and thence diffusing its radiance over the entire world. (qtd. in Carby 156)
In its dramatization of a grand cyclical return to African ascendance, the novel's conclusion reflects what seems to have been Hopkins's own Ethiopianist or pan-Africanist worldview, and with the installment of Reuel's Christianity in place of African spiritualist practices, there may be no reading that can completely redeem the cultural chauvinism and "civilizing mission" of Reuel's return. (9)
Yet taken within the context the novel's theme of revising Western cultural genealogy, the suggestion of a vague incest desire in Reuel and Candace's relationship can be read as an oblique reference to the ancient North African practices of sibling incest that have challenged theories of a universal incest taboo and that undermine the notion of the taboo as a "litmus test of culture." Historically, ancient Egypt stands out among the handful of civilizations in which incestuous relationships, particularly between brother and sister, were practiced openly. For anthropologists and classical historians, ancient Egypt is exceptional even among the rare exceptions to the supposedly universal taboo or aversion for intimacy between immediate family members. Remarking on the particularly unusual extension of the practice beyond royalty and the upper castes in this period, Levi-Strauss considered ancient Egypt (along with Peru and Hawaii) as one of the "three classical exceptions" to the universality of the incest taboo (9). For anthropologist William Arens, this "peculiar but well documented occurrence of incestuous marriages among a significant portion of the Egyptian middle class during the Roman era" constitutes a "particularly bedeviling instance, for--lacking other examples--it comprises a unique class and thus must be considered a legitimate ethnographic and historical oddity" (9). Similarly, historian Keith Hopkins suggests the significance of this "oddity" for undermining all totalizing claims of incest's cultural prohibition. "The Egyptian practice ... constitutes not merely a unique case in world ethnography, an antiquarian curiosity, but also a challenge to the propositions put forward by leading anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists, who have assumed that the taboo on sexual relations, let alone marriage, between siblings was universal and have made the incest taboo a cornerstone of their theories" (303-04). As the practice of incest in ancient Egypt challenges the universal claims of the incest prohibition, it serves as an anthropological parallel for the category-bending phenomena of occult science practiced by Reuel in Of One Blood. Incest in Egypt must either undermine the notion of the universality of the incest prohibition or be relegated to the margins beyond category, into a set of phenomena not unlike that described by the text Reuel reads in the novel's opening: "The Unclassified Residuum." Considering the novel's Ethiopianist historiographical revisions dedicated to the claim for Ethiopia's antedating of Egyptian civilization, the return to incestuous desire in Reuel and Candace's union reads as a bold reclamation of what is, for Hopkins's counter-metanarrative purposes, a rather pointedly unsettling aspect of ancient Egyptian culture.
While there are no explicit references to the Egyptian practice of incest in Of One Blood, the novel is laced with partly veiled allusions to incestuous unions in Egyptian mythology (perhaps attributable to Hopkins's own study in Egyptology). The avaricious and insouciant playboy Charlie Vance is often referred to as "Adonis," a nickname that serves, as Marla Harris explains, as a subtle Egyptian mythological reference to the novel's incest theme. "Invoking the mythical Adonis, the product of incest between a father and his daughter Mirra (or Myrhha), Hopkins prepares us for her Mira, the mother of Aubrey, Reuel, and Dianthe in Of One Blood. Unlike the Myrrha of Ovid's Metamorphoses, whose lust for her father leads her to trick him into sex, Hopkins's Mira is raped by her white master/brother" (384). Reuel views a set of hieroglyphics upon entering the pyraminds and "noticed particularly the figure of a queen attired in long robe, tight at neck and ankles, with closely fitted legs" (One Blood 104). The image is of Queen Candace herself, and while the image entices Reuel with its suggestive pose, the artifacts she holds are symbols of their shared destiny of incestuous union: "The queen held in one hand the lash of Osiris, and in the other a lotus flower" (104). The lotus flower image is the graphic citation of the lotus lily birthmark that, the reader learns, is given to all descendants of Ergamenes and serves as the device later used to identify Reuel as the lost king of Meroe. The image of Osiris suggests parallels between the Egyptian god and Hopkins's hero: just as Osiris battled with his brother (Seth), Reuel will do battle with the man revealed to be his own brother (Aubrey Livingston), and like Osiris, Reuel will be "resurrected" when he fulfills the prophecy of the return of the king. The lash of Osiris also presages the revelation of incest; like this god of the Egyptian underworld who ruled with his sister Isis, Reuel becomes involved in a relationship with his sister.
Reuel's fulfillment of the prophesied return of ancient Ethiopia's King Ergamenes also makes an historical reference to Egyptian incest. Ergamenes is the Ethiopian ruler whose reign coincided with the reign of Egypt's second Ptolemy, a fact that Professor Stone articulates in Of One Blood and that Hopkins repeats in her ethnological Primer. The concurrency of these Ethiopian and Egyptian kingships draws a subtle relationship between the Ethiopianist return to ascendancy and ancient Egypt's tolerance of sibling incest (both of which resound in Reuel and Candace's union) because the concurrency emphasizes Ergamenes as the Ethiopian king whose reign corresponds with the height of the practice of incest in Egypt. This Ptolemy was the second Greek king of Egypt who, quite contrary to repudiating incest, took up the practice and according to Keith Hopkins, "divorced his wife who had borne him several children and married his full sister Arsinoe" (311-12). (10) As he carries his incestuous desire into the ancient African setting, Reuel conserves sibling affinity in the cultural syncretism between Egyptian and Greek civilization.
These references to mythological and historical incest are subtle, yet numerous enough to be viewed as deliberate, and considering the degree to which the practice of sibling incest violates modern Western norms, Hopkins may not have been comfortable with representing the practice of incest in ancient Egyptian society more explicitly. Of course, she also runs the risk of suggesting the generally loathed practice as a feature of the African culture she hopes to valorize. Yet these many references to mythological and historical incest underscore the alternative cultural system of value that mitigates the abhorrence to being "one blood."
Before concluding with a discussion of this cultural revision, a final example of the novel's references to Egyptian incest mythology may help make the point that the relationship between Reuel and Candace should be interpreted as a repetition of (rather than a retreat from) the tabooed romance between Reuel and Dianthe, now divested of its immorality not through elimination but through revision. This reconfiguration becomes evident by a comparison between the different responses elicited by the revelation of the symbolic lotus lily in two different contexts. The lotus lily birthmarks--shared by Reuel, Dianthe, and "every descendant of the royal line"--not only designate members of the Ethiopian royal family but also serve as bodily warnings against the consummation of incestuous unions between those who bear the marks (102). In the event of physical intimacies between family members in this line, the recognition of the lotus lily birthmarks would be the last defense against (or final confirmation of) the commission of incest. Thus, just before she reveals Dianthe and Reuel's incestuous relationship, Aunt Hannah makes the somewhat cryptic exclamation, "My Mira's children, by de lotus-lily on each leetle breast I claim them for de great Osiris, mighty god" (177). Hannah's evocation of Osiris links the siblings' bodily markings with the incestuous sibling relationship between Osiris and Isis. And when Dianthe asks, "Did each of Mira's children have this mark?" Hannah's response explains what the mark signifies, "Yes, honey; all of one blood!" (177). Dianthe's death prevents the unification of the lotus lily birthmarks in the flesh, that is, on the skin of the biological siblings, but the unification of the lilies as the symbolic parallel of incest does indeed take place at the end of the novel in a suggestive interaction between Reuel and Candace. Exclaiming triumphantly to Reuel that she has "prepared against this happy hour," the queen produces her prized possession, a "curious ring of dull gold, bearing one priceless gem cut in the form of a lotus lily" (140). Suggestively, the virgin queen slips the ring, which she has carefully preserved and protected in an "inlaid cabinet," onto Reuel's waiting finger. Perhaps for the peace of mind and larger good of the kingdom, the royal attendants look on, bearing witness to this digital consummation with all of its weighty implications for the continuation of the imperial dynasty. "The Sages had watched the actors in this life-drama with jealous eyes that noted every detail with satisfaction." Inspired by this mere prelude, Ai ushers everyone else out of the bedchamber. "Let us hence, that the union may be speedily accomplished" (140).
If the social and anthropological frameworks for incest and miscegenation taboos support political distinctions of genealogy and kinship augmented by culturally constructed fears of contamination and figured (prior to the advent of genetics) by blood, then in Hopkins's novel, the monogenetic decree of "one blood" carries what Marc Shell describes as a "trade-off for this universalist sentiment" that cannot be dismissed, "a characteristic psychological disquietude and political instability" (625). The great "horror" of the "one blood" decree is not merely the problem of unwitting incest within the nuclear family, but also the inevitable "carnal contagion" resulting from notions of kinship based on and articulated through a figure as polysemic as "blood." But, as Shell explains:
[I]n the culturally vibrant terminology of kinship it is debatable which kind of kinship is the literal one. After all, the fundamental distinction between "real" kinship and "pseudo" kinship--between literal and figural signification--is the topic of a still-unresolved debate about whether kinship is essentially a matter of biology (however understood) or of sociology. Which is fundamental in determining "literal" kinship, for example, my likeness to my supposed genitor or my likeness to God, who created me in his image? Which substance is fundamental: the genes I share with my genitor, the love between my adoptive parent and myself, the milk I sucked from my mother, the blood I commingled with my blood brother, the wafer and wine I shared at a communal feast, or the dust from which all things (including myself) are made? (Shell 638)
In Of One Blood Hopkins expresses just such deconstructive implications of incest for racial biologism in the narrator's commentary following the incest revelation in the novel:
The slogan of the hour is "Keep the Negro down!" but who is clear enough in vision to decide who hath black blood and who hath it not? Can any one tell? No, not one; for in His own mysterious way He has united the white race and the black race in this new continent. By the transgression of the law He proves His own infallibility: "Of one blood have I made all nations of men to dwell upon the whole face of the earth," is as true today as when given to the inspired writers to be recorded. No man can draw the dividing line between the two races, for they are both of one blood! (178)
Ultimately, Of One Blood suggests that the cultural meaning of incest, like the meaning of miscegenation, is based upon constructed categories only taken as natural. Claude Levi-Strauss describes the incest prohibition as "a rule which embraces that which in society is most foreign to it, but also a social rule which retains what in nature is most likely to go beyond it. The incest prohibition is at once on the threshold of culture, in culture, and in one sense ... culture itself" (12). But when the differences that define the foreign and the unnatural are shown to be politically and historically contingent metaphors for conceptualizing and managing difference itself (here with respect to race and gender), then the broader meaning of incest and certainly the universalizing claim of a relationship between the incest prohibition and the maintenance or decline of culture become uncertain.
Formally homologous to the forbidden union between Reuel and his sister Dianthe, the final union between Reuel and Candace resolves incest's dialectic between the categories of the natural and unnatural, thus neutralizing incest's prescribed cultural and moral meanings. The union allows Reuel to respond to the "call of blood" from Dianthe without actually committing incest, but more radically, provides the possibility for a sanctioned and pure relationship between brother and sister. The relationship is formally endogamous, yet it cannot be termed "incest" because incest is unchaste by definition. Thus the plot purifies the notion of "one blood," separating the commission of incest from the fulfillment of the Paulinian decree. Finally, rather than substituting incest for monogenism, Hopkins demonstrates that, ultimately, one cannot maintain "pure races" protected against miscegenation without an incestuous doctrine of blood purity, and yet one cannot celebrate the unity of a single human family without embracing familial or even sibling affinity. For the polygenesist, then, only the impurity of incest can maintain the distinct purity of the "bloodlines" of original and permanent races, while for the monogenesist incest is an etymological misnomer, for in a monogenetic world, all relations are "incestuous," which is to say that none of them are, and the impurity of incest has no meaning. Thus, as in Hopkins's novel, all roads lead to incest, and the only real choices are those between the open and the occult practice of incest, between the biblical imperative of brotherhood and the untenable nature of racial science's taxonomies, and between a guiltless doctrine of "one blood" and the repressed desires of the hidden self.
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(1.) While Harris identifies an "unreconciled antipathy" between earlier African American writers and the subject of incest, the theme does occur--although rarely and discreetly--in African American literature before the 1970s (495). Indeed Hopkins's broached the subject herself in a muted fashion in her first novel Contending Forces (1900), where the black heroine Sappho Clark disassociates herself from her past violation by a white half-uncle. Incest, of course, has been a theme in American literature since the publication of William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy: Or, The Triumph of Nature, Founded in Truth (1789), recognized as the first American novel. For critical discussions of literary incest as a register of social and political anxieties in early and nineteenth-century American literature and culture, see Barnes's "Natural and National Unions" (Incest 138-55), Dalke, Sanchez-Eppler, and J. Wilson.
(2.) Taken from Luke's account of the apostle Paul's travels in Acts 17:26, the phrase "of one blood" recurs throughout American anti-slavery writing, appearing as early as 1700 in Samuel Sewall's The Selling of Joseph, as a biblical endorsement of universal brotherhood and sisterhood. Sollors traces the notion of "one blood" in the construction of ethnic American identity through various texts in Beyond Ethnicity 60-64. For a discussion of the phrase's uses and development in the African American oral tradition, see Mays 41, 162-88.
(3.) "Natal alienation," of course, is Patterson's term for the slave's "loss of ties of birth in both ascending and descending generations.... It was this alienation of the slave from all formal, legally enforceable ties of 'blood,' and from any attachment to groups of localities other than those chosen for him by the master, that gave the relation of slavery its peculiar value to the master" (7).
(4.) Like Hopkins's Aunt Hannah, Twain's Roxy makes a daring switch of the master's infant heir for a look-alike slave descendant. The plot delivers a delicious, black feminist revenge against slavery's natal alienation. The black matriarchs take full advantage of their dual responsibilities for rearing their own and the master's descendants by exchanging the dispossessed black child for the rightful heir of the master who, while justifying the variant destinies of his black and white offspring through claims of natural inferiority and superiority, cannot even tell them apart. As Carolyn Porter explains in her reading of Pudd'nhead Wilson, "Because this [antebellum slave] code observed the Roman rule of matrilineal descent, in which the child follows the 'condition' of the mother, no matter what the father's status, a slave mother, in giving birth, delivered her child into slavery. It is this rule, among other unwritten laws, that Roxana subverts when she inserts her son into the patrilineal, and patriarchal, system, in which he becomes the 'heir of the house'" (Porter 129).
(5.) Here I am trying to emphasize the important ideological and political critique of slavery effected by the plot's conflation and conceptual exchange between miscegenation and incest. Sollors identifies this conflation as a broader strategy of antislavery and antisegregation writing. "Whereas miscegenation might look like a safe way of avoiding incest, it often turns out to be incest in liberal antislavery writing. The very fact that an interracial relationship can still also be described as incestuous suggests that there is a deeper collision between the system of maternal descent that sustains hereditary slavery and the patriarchal belief that kinship is established through the father. And for the antislavery and antisegregationist writers this collision provided a crack in the system of racial domination into which they could drive a wedge" (Neither Black nor White 318).
(6.) Reuel's description of this "volatile magnetism" combines both orthodox and occult science. The term obviously evokes Franz Anton Mesmer's theory of "animal magnetism" which was influential in the nineteenth-century American spiritualist movement. Mesmer's animal magnetism was "a universal substance linking together every orderly process throughout nature," an "etheric medium through which sensations of every kind--light, heat, magnetism, electricity--were able to pass from one physical object to another" (Fuller 2). But while Reuel's "volatile magnetism" is similar to Mesmer's "animal magnetism," the two exhibit significant differences. Reuel's substance is more materially stable while Mesmer's is only physically intermediary, and unlike Mesmer's substance which must be manipulated by magnets due to its energetic properties, Reuel's "volatile magnetism" is described as having enough materiality that it can be contained in a case and physically handled quite easily.
(7.) In ancient Meroe, "Candace"--a Latin derivative of a Meroitic word meaning "queen" or "queen mother"--was not the name of a single figure but rather the title given to as many as five members of "a remarkable line of Ethiopian queens in Meroitic Cush" that ruled between 160 B.C. and 15 A.D. (See Fage 115, and Williams and Finch 13). The appearance of this ancient African figure of feminine power in Hopkins's novel is an historical reference with considerable thematic significance. The reigns of the Candaces in ancient Ethiopia demonstrate a practice of feminine political empowerment to rival even that of Egypt. "These queens ran the civil administration, led armies against military foes, promoted long-distance commerce and diplomatic relations, and engaged in massive building programs. In every way, they exercised the full prerogatives and powers of rulership. Such independent female rulers are found throughout Africa in time and space and ... this relative frequency of the queenship--compared to other parts of the world--reflected the persistent matriarchal patterns in Africa through the course of history" (Williams and Finch 16). In the context of the novel's Afrocentric political philosophy and historiography, the figure of Candace serves to associate feminine independence and empowerment with the Ethiopianist tenet of a future, cyclical revival of culture emanating from ancient Africa and extending to the West.
(8.) In Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936), the narrator muses over Henry Sutpen's desire for his half-brother Charles Bon as the indulgence in a "pure and perfect incest," the surrogated desire for their sister Judith (77).
(9.) For readings critical of the novel's civilizationist and colonialist implications, see Gaines and Japtok.
(10.) Lloyd disputes the notion that royal brother-sister marriage in the Ptolemaic line "evolved on the basis of Egyptian historical precedent, a notion that has persisted into recent literature, despite the total lack of reliable pharaonic evidence that full brother-sister marriage was ever practiced by Egyptian kings" (408). Instead, Lloyd points to the "obvious Greek mythological prototype in the marriage of Zeus and Hera, which was easy to invoke for a family that claimed Zeus as an ancestor" and raises the possibility of a "severely practical" goal in Ptolemy II's marriage to his own sister, that of neutralizing the powerful Arsinoe as a rival to the throne (410). Nevertheless, Ergamenes's reign in Ethiopia corresponds with what Lloyd describes as the "very remarkable ... establishment of full brother-sister marriage as a recurrent, though not consistent, practice" in ancient Egypt (408). Indeed, seven of the next eleven Greek kings of Egypt after Ptolemy II also married their sisters. See K. Hopkins 312.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
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